Wonderful write-up on Shankar Nag from an user in Quora...
In India, there are a very few directors who were great actors too. How many actor/directors have won a national award for writing a script for a film that was not in their native language? How many actor/directors could create one of the best ever TV shows in Indian history with a majority of the actors not being native speakers of the language the TV show was filmed in? How many actor/directors could portray a character so brilliantly that an entire group of people carry the actor’s image with them everywhere in the entire state even after 26 years of his death?
The actor/director I’m talking about is the legendary Late Shankar Nag, affectionately called as Shankaranna by the people of Karnataka.
Being a Konkani-Kannadiga, he won the National award for co-writing a Marathi film 22 June 1897. One of the best TV shows that I was talking about is the classic Malgudi Days, a Hindi serial where the majority of the actors were Kannadigas. The show became a superhit and it is considered to be one of the greatest ever Indian TV shows. Hats off to Shankar Nag bringing the works of R K Narayan to life.
Rest of India knows might know him through Malgudi Days. But Karnataka knows him by the brilliant films he made in his short, but extraordinary career in Kannada film industry.
The character that made so much impact that even today, a certain class of people carry his picture in Karnataka was his character in the film Auto Raja. Shankar Nag played the character of an educated auto driver which touched the lives of auto drivers across Karnataka. The film is a cult classic and a majority of the auto drivers in entire Karnataka have his picture on the autos. Or you can see his picture on auto stands across the state. Mind you, he passed away 26 years back!
He directed a film called Ondu Mutthina Kathe starring the legendary Dr Rajkumar. This film, loosely based on John Steinback’s book The Peral, it is considered to be a cult classic and also believed to be the first ever Indian movie to be shot underwater.
Everyone must have heard about the phrase All izz well from 3 Idiots. Well guess what, in films, it was not used first by Aamir Khan. It was used in another classic movie Minchina Ota 29 years before 3 Idiots, directed by Shankar Anna. This movie starred Shankar and his elder brother Anant. It is considered to be one of the best heist movies ever in Indian cinema, a rare genre this one.
A guy from an influential family under the influence of drugs runs over a bunch of people sleeping on the footpath and causes them to die a brutal death. His father, a politician bails him out and his driver takes the fall for his mistake. The police officer handling the case is quietly moved aside and the journalist investigating the story is told to drop it and is badly beaten by the thugs. This is the plot of the Shankaranna movie Accident. This film exposed the flaws in Indian Judicial system and how cheaply people with money can get away with most heinous of crimes. Jolly LLB was released in 2014 but Accident was released 30 years back in 1984! The film won the National Award for the Best Film on Social Issues. It is a landmark film in Kannada industry.
Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi had stopped singing in films for a long time. But Shankar Nag was able to convince the legendary singer to sing a beautiful song which has come to be associated with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi so much that people can’t listen to other versions. The song is the one which every household in Karnataka sings. It is the classic song Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma and the movie was Nodi Swamy Navirodu Heege. This movie had a simple story about how a middle class couple struggles with life. But the brilliance of Shankar Nag made it a classic.
Shankar Nag is one of the very few directors who has won the National Award in three different languages. He won the National Award for Best English Film in 1986 for the film The Watchman.
His two other films, namely Geetha and Janma Janmada Anubandha are musical hits. With the voices of SP Balasubramanyam and S Janaki, the two films featured immortal songs like Santoshakke, which has become a youth anthem of sorts in Karnataka, Jothe Jotheyali, and Tangali yelli naanu telibande, a song in a horror movie which is bound to give you goosebumps.
30 September 1990 was the darkest day in the history of Kannada cinema. Our beloved Shankaranna met with a fatal car accident near Davangere and we lost him forever. Entire Karnataka gave a tearful farewell to the legend who had taken not just Kannada cinema but Indian cinema to the next level.
His wife Arundathi and daugher Kavya were in the car but luckily, they survived. But the driver and Shankar Nag were killed on the spot. Shankar Nag was just 35 years old at the time of his death. His death was a devastating blow for Kannada cinema.
Arundathi Nag is a legend herself who fulfilled the final dream of Shankar Nag by establishing Ranga Shankara in his memory. This place is the most famous place for theatre in Karnataka. It aims to promote theatre in all languages and prides itself in lending out the space at an extremely low fare. It follows an at least “a play a day” policy, six days a week. Its annual theatre festival brings to the city plays from across the country, giving the audience a good spread to choose from. Over 2,700 performances have been staged since inception, most of them in Kannada, though there have been plays in 20 other languages too.
You must have seen her in many films like Paa, The Man Who Knew Infinity, and Dil Se.
Many people have forgotten that Shankar Nag was not only a great actor, but also a great director. His films took Indian cinema to a whole new level. For him, language was not a barrier. He could achieve truly remarkable things like creating a Hindi TV series with Kannada actors, write a script for a Marathi movie, and so on. It is such a tragedy that he left us at the age of just 35. Had he been alive, he could and would have directed even more brilliant films. We miss you Shankaranna!